If you attend a lot of prep sporting events, you may notice someone lingering around talking with players and coaches, dressed in school attire and equipped with medical supplies.
These are athletic trainers, who have become an essential resource to the day-to-day operations of high school athletics. They don’t always get the attention and recognition they deserve. They keep your kids safe, make sure they don’t play with serious injuries and prevent them from further damage.
Their importance is considerable and with changes to protocol on how they deal with some football injuries, I thought I’d share what they do ... or let them do that.
“I feel it’s very beneficial to have an athletic trainer on your staff,” Civic Memorial trainer Aaron Suessen said. “Back when I was in school you got your bell rung, you came out a couple of plays and you went back in. Now if there is a collision or a kid comes off and says, ‘I don’t feel right.’ We do an evaluation that he obviously doesn’t have a concussion before he goes back in. We’re trying to protect kids as much as humanly possible.”
Suessen, a ‘92 grad of CM, and Alton’s Andy Renner are entering their fifth year as full-time employees of the school district. Both are paid through the Healthy Impact Grant supplied by the Alton Memorial Health Services Foundation.
Suessen’s sister, Leah Brueckner, works part time at Roxana, while Marquette Catholic has Jason Stendeback part time and East Alton-Wood River uses Dana Emerick, a trained EMS worker.
Outside of CM and AHS, the grant by the AMHSF supplies money to Roxana, EA-WR, Marquette, Jersey, Southwestern, Bunker Hill and Metro East Lutheran.
Unfortunately, the grant money is up at the end of the year and hasn’t been renewed as of yet.
“I realize money is tight and all those things are a factor. We all feel the budget crunch working around schools, but we have to get people to understand this isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Renner said. “There is a lot of benefit to what we do and you can put dollars and cents to it if you look at it the right way. There are a lot of doctor’s visits that we save that would be coming out of your taxpayer’s pockets. That’s a benefit to the parents.”
Roxana head football coach Pat Keith is the area’s veteran gridder. Keith is in his seventh season at the helm of the Shells. He played at Marquette, has assisted at Alton and Greenfield and can’t imagine life without a trainer now.
“We were lucky when I was at Marquette; Dr. Blair was there for us, but it gives you a little peace of mind knowing someone is there and looking out for the kids to have them ready at all times,” Keith said. “Since I’ve been (at Roxana) Leah has been here and I think she’s dedicated to the program and does a great job. I don’t think we could live without her.
“All our kids have a great relationship with Leah.”
Having a relationship with kids and the coaches is a necessity to performing their jobs. Suessen said knowing how a kid reacts to situations, their characteristics and their mental capabilities helps in diagnosis and that all comes from building those relationships.
“Sometimes you have to protect the kids from the kids,” Suessen said.
Really competitive kids looking at a sports life past high school may not be 100 percent honest about injuries because they desperately want to play, Suessen said. More in-depth evaluations may be needed to rule out injuries to make sure kids like that aren’t risking their health.
The coaches have grown to trust their trainers as a valuable member of their staff.
“It helps us make better decisions on guys playing quicker,” Keith said. “(Leah) is like a coach on our staff. She keeps guys healthy, she’s always honest and she always does a great job. One thing about Leah, she’s a great mom, has five kids and I think she feels like these kids are just like her kids at home too. That’s a good feeling to know somebody cares about our kids as much as she does.”
It’s not just football where you find these trainers, but because of the brutality of the sport there are more protocols there. A change to how spinal injuries are handled this season allows the trainers and on-site EMS workers at games to remove helmets and shoulder pads now.
It’s something Renner thinks makes sense and helps speed the medical process at the hospital.
“Hopefully it results in better treatment at the hospital and just easier care,” Renner said. “ER doctors and nurses aren’t trained on equipment removal. I deal with helmets and shoulder pads every day.”
There are also procedures for concussions and next year a new state bill will include academic protocols dealing with concussions. It’s being tagged “return to learn.”
“Obviously it’s an academic injury when we have a concussion, too,” Renner said. “It’s not just athletic, it’s going to affect learning because it is a brain injury.”
Alton has already had a plan in place, but starting in ‘16 schools will have a concussion oversight team. AHS’ will be composed of Renner, a team doctor, guidance counselor Mike Bellm and the school nurse.
“It’s very up front on what the school and the state should do when kids get concussions,” Suessen said of the new bill.
So take time to thank your school’s athletic trainer next time you get the chance. Whether you’re a coach, a player, a parent or a fan, they are all working for you.
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